Astrology has for years played a significant role in Chinese culture. The depiction on a circular chart of 12 different animals representing the 12-year cycle of the Chinese lunar calendar was built on the foundation of astronomy and Chinese astrology which has itself been in existence for over 5,000 years. Not nearly as old as Chinese astrology in general, the Chinese Zodiac is believed to have come into existence during second millennium. Even though it is thousands of years old, the Chinese Zodiac is one of the most recognizable symbols associated with Chinese culture today.
Unlike astronomy, which is more scientific, Chinese astrology can best be described as an art form. It’s the belief that the location of different celestial bodies has a profound and direct impact on that which occurs naturally on Earth and to all human beings. Early Chinese astrologers believed that the combination of a person’s time of birth, including the corresponding birth day, birth month and birth year could reveal much about that person’s destiny as well as that person’s personality traits, career choices, compatibility and incompatibility with others, and overall health and lifestyle.
The appearance of the 12 animals came about during the time when the Chinese writing system was being developed. Early Chinese astronomers based a system of reckoning time on the orbit of the planet Jupiter, what they referred to as the Year Star. It took Jupiter 12 years to complete its orbit which is why most measurement of time is based on the number 12. It was at that point in history that Chinese astrologists began to create the horoscopes, or life predictions, that they based on the various birth cycle combinations.
And although legends abound as to the appearance of animals on the Chinese Zodiac, the reality of their appearance is simple: it was easier for the Chinese people to recall that which each of the 12 animals represented than it was to understand the complex relationships between the 12 branches, the 10 heavenly stems, the 5 elements, and the opposing forces of yin and yang.